Bob Kurtz had a successful career in sports broadcasting with CNN, CBS, and ESPN when, in his mid 40′s, he responded to a higher calling. Bob became an ordained minister and is presently the senior pastor at St. John’s Evangelical Protestant Church in Cullman, Alabama.
Bob is also a darned fine golfer and has achieved his “Iron Man” moniker for having participated in golf marathons as charity fund-raising vehicles. His most impressive venture to date: In 2009, he played 500 consecutive holes without rest over 40 hours.
Now the Iron Man has bigger fish to fry: During the week of June 4-10, 2011, Bob will attempt to set a new Guinness World Record by playing 2,000 holes under the USGA’s Rules of Golf. For you sports fans keeping score at home, that works out to 111 rounds of golf in a week or approximately 16 rounds a day. Try THAT, Michael Jordan!
Of course, Bob isn’t doing this to enter the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s strictly a fund-raising event to help abused children. There are NO administrative costs. EVERY penny pledged goes towards the kids. That’s where YOU come in; please visit Bob’s website to learn how to contribute to this noble cause. Well done, Pastor Bob!
Golf Conversations: Hi, Bob, how are you?
Bob Kurtz: I’m doing great. I’ve been looking forward to your call.
GC: I’ve been looking forward to speaking with you, Iron Man!
BK: I’ve gone to your blog a couple of times. You’re kind of interesting as an interviewer. You don’t take an average or normal tack in your interviewing.
Interestingly enough, Robert, you seem to bring out an attitude in a person. I don’t know if you’ve thought about that or not. But you kind of define the person.
That’s real important because in a lot of interviews – with an athlete or a personality – they hide behind a persona and just don’t reveal who they are.
GC: Thanks for the kind words, Bob. Coming from a professional broadcaster such as you, that means a lot to me. My goal in creating Golf Conversations was to approach it from the point of view of a golf fan and not a “journalist.”
GC: I want to talk to people who want to talk to me, as opposed to – you go to a PGA Tour event and if you’re lucky, these guys will give you two minutes. I’m looking for 20, 30, 40 minutes of their time. So I was very deliberate about choosing people who want to talk to me. I think if you get that kind of person, then you’re going to get the kinds of thoughtful answers that readers will enjoy.
BK: I don’t mean to be immodest – but golfers as a group are very bright. And they have a lot to say; sometimes they have more to say than they realize. Because they didn’t get to their level of success accidentally. Sam Snead being maybe a notable exception but God just said, “Let there be Sam Snead” and boom, there was.
But everybody else — including Tiger, blessed with great talent … what he’s accomplished … he started working young and hard to achieve what he’s done. You have to acknowledge that.
If you’re 6’, 290 pounds, you probably can play college football. If you’re 6’ 7” and can jump out of the building, you can probably play college or pro basketball. But golf … you’ve got one of the most unathletic people that you’ve ever been around in Tom Kite … and yet it’s Tom Kite’s intelligence and discipline and understanding of his own limitations and the golf swing that made him a champion. I think Trevino said that God didn’t give everybody everything. He didn’t give Nicklaus the short game.
GC: He didn’t give me a short game, a long game, or a medium game. But I don’t hold it against him!
BK: Suppose you combined the enormous physical gifts and talents of Davis Love with the heart of Corey Pavin …
GC: You’d have a gritty Georgia bulldog!
BK: … Or combine Jim Furyk and Fred Couples…
GC: You’d have Fred Furyk!
BK: Yeah, you would!
But anyway, we digress.
GC: Yes. Someone had sent me your name. I forget who. I sent out an email blast to my devoted reader – I mean readers – asking them to drop me a line if they knew any interesting golf folks to interview. And someone sent me your name, Mr. Iron Man. I went to your website and read all about you. What an amazing career you’ve had. I’m honored to speak with you.
BK: Oh, gosh!
GC: I really am.
BK: You’re the first person in my life who’s ever said that!
GC: And probably the last.
BK: But I really appreciate that. Thank you!
GC: I read about your previous Iron Man achievements and now you’re looking to set a new record for most golf holes played in a week. The present Guinness World Record is 1800 holes in a week?
BK: The record is, yes, 1801. The record for most continuous holes was 401. Three years ago I decided to break that record and played 405. And then the following year, I thought 500 was a good number. So I played 500 consecutive holes; that’s without stopping, without a break, without anything.
GC: This was day and night?
BK: Day and night. Using a glow ball. You’ve got to have a pretty good team of volunteers, too.
GC: How does that work?
BK: I teed off at 5 in the morning and played until 8 o’clock at night.
GC: You tee off before the dew even has a chance to develop.
BK: Yes. And if the greens have been recently aerified there’s a little bit of sand that comes up that you don’t notice when the greens are dry. It’s just no fun. That first round or two early in the morning is tough. Then about the third or fourth round, it gets to be fun where you start playing golf and trying to score.
Then at 8 at night, we switched to the glow ball and had three gators: two teams on gators out in the fairway and one who just stayed with me all the time. You know what a gator is?
BK: It’s like a glorified golf cart on steroids. Usually it has a little area in the back that’s like a pick-up truck.
GC: Got it. The maintenance guys use these.
BK: Yes. If you have a golf tournament and you’re gonna pick up all the sponsor signs, they’ll run around and throw them in the back. It moves a little faster than a golf cart. And it has great headlights. And that was the secret.
The one fellow who followed me around … on the teeing ground, he would have the lights on so I could see the ball. As soon as I hit the ball, he would turn off his lights so everybody could pick up the glow ball going through the air.
BK: Then the guys in the fairway … one of them would shine a spotlight on the ball, the other guy would quickly head up to the green and shine the spotlight on the green. We were pretty good at it.
GC: Bob, you must have hit a lot of fairways.
BK: You don’t want to be looking for the golf ball in any of these marathons! But I always played by the strict Rules of Golf.
GC: No kidding. And once you tee off, you jump into the gator?
BK: During the daylight hours, in a golf cart.
GC: You’re not walking?
BK: Not walking. It would be impossible to do those kinds of numbers. Actually, my chiropractor – who’s one of my closest friends – watches over me and says, “Do you realize the most difficult part of it is getting in and out of the golf cart? Because you’re at awkward angles.” On a par 4, you’re in and out of the golf cart 6 times.
GC: You are, Bob! Some of us are in and out on a par 4 more often than that!
BK: You get out, hit the tee shot, get back in. Drive to the ball in the fairway, get out, hit it, get back in. Go to the green, get out and putt and then get back in. That’s 6 times. With par threes and par fives equaling each other out, over 500 holes, you’ll get in and out of a cart 3,000 times.
His worry about the 7-day marathon and 2,000 holes is that I’m gonna get in and out of the golf cart 12,000 times. That concerns him about being dangerous for your back. So we’re trying to re-design the golf cart by removing that little bar on the side. That’ll make it easier to slip in and slip out.
GC: How about if they tied a mattress to the back of the golf cart with a rope? You lay down on the mattress and you can be towed around the golf course.
BK: That’s something to think about.
GC: And you can take a little snooze in between shots.
Ok, so that was your 500 hole marathon.
BK: Yes, we played all night long; played 108 holes at night. Then we finished the next day. Guinness acknowledged the record but it’s buried … no one knows about it. Their most significant record – and they’ve been talking to me about this for 2 or 3 years – is this 1,801 holes done in a week.
I think 500 holes played consecutively without a break is a lot more demanding, a lot more difficult, and a lot more significant than 1,800 holes played over a week.
It takes a long time to put all this together. And also the expenses involved. I don’t want to do it unless I raise a significant amount of money for charity … for hurting and abused children. That’s such an important part of what I care about.
We’ve got a lot of expenses. We’ve got to rent this golf resort for a week in prime season.
GC: For a week? Where is it being held?
BK: Hartselle, Alabama. Quail Creek Golf Resort. They’re shutting down the course for a week. So we’ve got to pick up that revenue for them. But I like the site because they have an inn – they have 16 rooms there. So we’ll stay there for the whole week and I will not leave the site. We may use a little bit of gator action – Guinness allows you to use a glow ball.
GC: They do?
BK: This is an official Guinness World Record event – they’ll be present the last 2 days. They’re also not cheap.
GC: What does that mean, “They’re not cheap”? You have to pay for their hotel room?
BK: I’ll give you figures.
GC: Yeah, I wanna know!
BK: It’s 3,000 pounds sterling a day for their presence. To have an official adjudicator … to use their logo in all your promotions, all that kind of stuff. 6,000 pounds is $9600.
GC: Bob, I would have come for a hundred bucks and adjudicated.
BK: And it would have been an official Blumenthal World Record! Gosh, I could have saved a lot of money!
GC: And that Guinness guy who’s adjudicating … do you have to buy him a hot dog every time you make the turn?
BK: We’ll have hot dogs out there. They can have those on the house.
GC: Gee, Bob … every time you make the turn, eat a hot dog…
BK: That will be another world record!
GC: That’s right. You can be training for that Nathan’s Coney Island hot dog eating contest.
BK: I was a little concerned about this golf course. It’s a beautiful setting in the foothills of the Appalachians. I was afraid … would it get too wet? If it’s wet, that really slows your speed down. ‘Cause we’ll have rain in June. I played 27 holes yesterday really fast – I zipped by some people. I played 18 holes in 54 minutes.
GC: Oh, my goodness. And you’re a really good player – you just don’t slap it around. You play quickly and you score well.
BK: Yeah, last night I was +1 … I had 4 bogeys in the 27 holes. 4 bogeys, 2 birdies. The longest par five is 565 and I didn’t hit two good shots. I had a third shot and holed it out for an eagle.
GC: I shouldn’t say this to a pastor but … I hate guys like you!
BK: But you’ve got to remember, I hit 300 balls a day. I ought to be able to hit it straight.
GC: Listen, I go out and practice and I shank about 50 in a row…
… so it’s not quantity, it’s quality. In your previous Iron Man expeditions, did you ever have a day or two of solid rain?
BK: We never did. We never had any rain.
GC: Knock on wood.
BK: Yeah, right. We’ve been really blessed. I’ve done four of these things and the weather has been perfect.
GC: Bob, is that a coincidence or …
BK: Divine providence?
GC: … using your influence with the Big Guy upstairs?
BK: I’d sure like to be able to genuinely claim that I had that kind of influence. You can joke about a lot of things but you got to really stay humble with the Guy upstairs…
GC: Yes. BUT … I think anyone who does the good works that you do – trying to help kids – I think maybe you do have a little special something going on.
BK: Well, we’d like to humbly think that …
GC: You’re not walking over water hazards, are you?
BK: Definitely not! Definitely not! People ask me: “How in the world can you do this?” Well, number one: you’ve got to be a little loony. You really do. People don’t understand the passion that we have who really love golf. And I really do love the game, I love to play. I’ve never had a problem – I don’t know about you – about playing alone. I enjoy playing alone. But I’ve never played one ball around a golf course. I always hit two or three shots.
Number two is: I’m ball-striking strong. I’ve always been a range rat. As a broadcaster and a pastor, you don’t have a lot of time. I don’t how these guys who play every day, how they’ve been able to do it. It takes 6 hours to go out to a golf course to get ready to play, play, and get back. I don’t have that time. But I always set aside a couple of hours a day and I’ll hit balls.
I hit a minimum of 300 a day. That’s 10,000 a month.
GC: You kids at home: don’t try that unless you get permission from your PGA professional!
BK: There are guys who play 36 or 54 holes in one day and wake up the next day and they can’t move and they’re hurting. It just really means they haven’t hit enough balls. Their ball-striking muscles aren’t toned. I don’t have that problem. When I played the 500 holes – I went to bed at 10 o’clock and I was up at 5:30 the next morning – I didn’t have an ache or pain.
GC: But the 2000 hole thing …
BK: That’s going to be different.
GC: … what time do you think you’ll start, how often will you stop?
BK: I don’t plan to stop. Guinness requires that we have independent witnesses as well as the scorers and the spotters. We’ll have 2 scorekeepers – one person might make an error – two of them probably won’t. They’ll turn in both scorecards as I finish each 18 holes.
GC: Let me make a suggestion.
GC: Don’t get Tommy Aaron to keep score for you.
BK: Tommy’s a good friend! I hadn’t thought about that!
GC: Don’t tell him I said that!
How many volunteers do you need to put this on?
BK: We’ll probably have a minimum of 30-35.
GC: You will have time to sleep, right?
BK: Sure. Yes. I’ll probably tee off at 5 o’clock every morning and play ‘till 8 or 9 that night. We’re in the eastern part of the central time zone, so it gets darker here earlier than it does in say, Atlanta. So it gets dark at 7:45 or so. But I want to try to finish 16 rounds a day. So we may play another 18 with a glow ball. So I figure I’ll get to bed at ten every night and get up at four.
GC: Tell me about the glow balls.
BK: The glow balls are about 75% in terms of distance.
GC: Of a regular ball?
BK: Of a regular ball. They’re dimpled and Guinness accepts them. I don’t think the USGA would accept them in a tournament but Guinness accepts them so that’s all that we care about.
Everybody acknowledges it’s harder to play with a glow ball. The weird thing about it is – you break the little stick that’s in the middle of it – when you putt, that stick is what’s glowing and the ball looks weird! Fluttering all over the green even though it’s rolling straight.
GC: Contact the nearest Army base. Get some of those Special Ops guys to videotape this with their night-vision cameras.
That would be really cool. Put that on your website. So exactly when is this marathon taking place, Iron Man?
BK: We’re going to start Saturday morning, June 4th. And this is the absolute truth – and you wouldn’t expect anything less, I hope, from a person of integrity – every penny that is sent in from pledges goes directly to help hurting and abused children.
I’ve raised enough money to cover the costs. But if it was held this weekend, that’s all we would have. I don’t want to do this if we don’t have a significant amount of money raised.
It’s a fabulous fund raiser. The last two we did we raised a total of almost $100,000. It was, I think, $52,000 and $47,000. That’s a significant amount of money raised in a single event. If you know golf tournaments and if you’ve played in scrambles and so forth … they don’t raise a lot of money because you have all the fees. The money that comes in is going straight to the kids. We have no administrative fees.
We’ve formed a 501(c)(3) so we are non-profit. It’s called “Ministry To Children” or “MTC Golf.” There are no administrative expenses whatsoever; everybody’s a volunteer. And that makes me feel good. So I don’t have a problem asking for money if it’s going to the kids.
GC: That’s right. Because some of these charities take 25, 30, 40% for “expenses.”
BK: Or more.
GC: And that’s not right.
BK: One more thing, Robert. We’ve got a pretty good Advisory Board. Do you know who Dr. Gary Wiren is?
GC: I interviewed Gary at the PGA Show two months ago.
BK: Great. I was there at the PGA Show.
GC: I was looking for you, where were you?
BK: I was just wandering around.
GC: So was I. I was the one walking around going, “Oy, are my feet killing me!”
BK: Gary’s on our Advisory Board. He and I are dear friends. I don’t know if you know who Mike Adams is?
GC: The golf instructor?
BK: Yes, he’s one of the top-100 teachers. Mike is on the board. A fellow who passed your generation but I just love, Furman Bisher.
GC: I know who he is – a golf writer with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
BK: Furman’s on the Advisory Board also. So we’ve got some quality people. They’re not on the Board but they let me use their names: Tom Osborne and Roger Staubach. They did that out of friendship.
GC: Well, these are all very upstanding, credible people.
GC: I guess the only thing that concerns me, Bob, is that getting my name into it…
… it might have the opposite effect. You don’t want to turn people off.
BK: I don’t think so! You’ll give us the definite “human” side”! This way they can’t say, “What is this … a collection of goody-goodies?”
GC: “They’ve got Blumenthal on there…”
BK: Yeah, yeah, “They’ve got Blumenthal so that means they’ve got to be down-to-earth and normal.”
GC: How about if I post this interview the Tuesday after the Masters?
BK: That would be great. A soon as the Masters is over, everybody heads out to golf courses.
GC: Yes, America’s Golfers: “Let the topping begin!”
Are any of the equipment folks helping you out?
BK: Cleveland Golf has stepped up a little bit. I’ve asked them for 15 dozen golf balls. We’ll pre-tee up the golf balls. I’ll have the team going out there at night.
I timed it: it takes 17 seconds to reach into your pocket, pull out a tee, put the tee in the ground, step back up, waggle, and hit the ball. That doesn’t sound like much, but you multiply 17 seconds times 2,000 holes … if the balls are already teed up you can save a lot of time.
GC: So putting your hand in your pocket and removing a tee takes 17 seconds, huh?
BK: Yes, for me that process is 17 seconds.
GC: Bob, I know some guys who never put their hands in their pocket!
BK: Yeah! Gary Player for one.
BK: Gary never … I shouldn’t say this.
GC: Say it!!!
BK: I love Gary Player. I admire him. He is my model and hero because at 74 he can still do things that younger men can’t in terms of physical fitness. But on the other hand … he’s borrowed $20 from me over the years probably half a dozen times.
He never has any money. [Bob affects a South African accent]: “Oh, Bawb, have you got a twenty on you, Bawb?”
What are you going to say to Gary Player?
He’s so good-spirited. I just didn’t think about it.
GC: “Laddie, do you have a double sawbuck?”
BK: Best Gary Player story … I was with CNN covering the Masters. I was interviewing him after a round. I asked him the obvious question: “What do you think about the course?”
He goes, “Oh, Bawb. It’s such a wonderful course. I just pray that when I die and go to heaven that there’ll be a course like this and I’ll be the head pro.” What a great line.
BK: Two years later, I’m in San Antonio doing some freelance stuff for ESPN and he’s playing the Senior Tour. He’s at The Dominion in San Antonio. I asked him, “Gary, what do you think about this golf course?”
And he says, “Oh, Bawb. It’s such a wonderful course. I just pray that when I die and go to heaven that there’ll be a course like this and I’ll be the head pro.”
GC: Oh, no!
BK: I ran that on television that night. The owner of the golf course was just thrilled when he heard Gary say that. I thought, “Player, you’re really smart. What a p.r. person you are! Are you full of it?” He is a little bit full of it but he knows it.
GC: Yeah, well … some call it p.r., others call it b.s. I’ve also heard him use, “This is the finest course of its kind that I’ve ever seen.”
BK: Yeah, I like that, too.
GC: Bob, it was lovely chatting with you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
BK: I look forward to seeing the interview. And I enjoy your site.
GC: And what you’re doing for the kids is fabulous and I admire you for it. Go get ‘em Iron Man!
BK: Thank you.
Bob’s attempt to play 2000 holes June 4-10, 2011 needs your support NOW. Please mail your check, payable to MTC or Ministry to Children to:
512 Second Ave. SE
Cullman, AL 35055
On June 11, 2011, Bob Kurtz set a new Guinness World Book record: 1,850 golf holes played in seven days. Because of the devastating tornadoes that struck the Alabama area in April, 2011, Bob decided to donate the funds raised in his marathon to tornado victims.
Here’s Bob in action. Please note how he’s able to putt without plumb bobbing! Congratulations, Bob!